Poem in your pocket

“Every day is some kind of holiday with librarians.”  My partner says this or some variation on it whenever I mention that it’s National Whatever Day or Whatever Awareness Day, which I do fairly often.  I can’t really argue.  There’s always something to celebrate, and you can always count on  librarian or a teacher to do just that. I don’t think it’s just me.  :)

Today happens to be one of my favorite celebrations: Poem in Your Pocket Day.  It is the day I choose a small poem for each member of my family to carry with them.  The Academy of American Poets encourages people everywhere to carry #pocketpoems on Poem in Your Pocket Day.  The organization has lofty goals like promoting art appreciation and getting poetry into the media.  I think that’s wonderful, but my intention is more down-to-earth.  I just want to bring my family into my world.  I fell in love with poetry a long time ago, and it is very important to me.  I don’t read it or write it as much as I would like anymore, but I still feel a strong connection to the art.  It’s a connection that I want to share with my partner and my daughter.  Even if they don’t take their poems out of their pockets all day, they are there.  Maybe the words will seep into their souls just by being close to them.

The best holidays are the quiet ones, in my opinion.  Poem in Your Pocket Day is just right.

Of course, any day might be a good day for a pocket poem.  For kids’ poetry, check out The Poem Farm in which poet Amy Ludwig Vanderwater shares poems and other fun stuff.

 

Why I am a Librarian

For School Library Month, librarians all over the Internet are sharing their stories of why they became librarians with the hashtag #whylib.  For me, becoming a librarian was more of a why not? than a why.  I didn’t really know what to do with my English degree other than write, and I knew I needed something to pay the bills while I wrote my novel.  I’d always loved libraries, so it seemed like a natural fit for me to be a librarian.  I started library school with my only expectation being he hope that I could support a writing career by the end.

Along the way–between classes in reference and instruction and other library staples–I discovered Young Adult Literature.  I knew very quickly that this was it for me.  Teen fiction and library services to teens was my professional heart.  My first job out of library school was focused on teen services at a public library, and it was a tremendous learning experience for which I am incredibly grateful.

From there, I went to work in the book industry–first for one book distributor/library vendor and now another–where my focus has widened from teens to the whole range of K-12 education.  This was a new perspective for me, and I didn’t really know if I would take to it.

After almost ten years on this side of the library world, I can say that I have gained a strong appreciation for the power of libraries–and librarians–along with a knowledge of children’s literature from picture books and easy readers to the teen fiction I still love.

I may have begun my career with a why not?, but every new experience has given me more of a why than ever.  The twenty-year-old me who started library school would never have guessed that I would end up being as passionate about picture books, storytimes, and children’s programming as I ever was about teen fiction.

I have learned a lot.  Mostly about connection, community, and the power of stories.  That’s what libraries are all about, and that’s why I am a librarian.

Related Links:

  • 6 Things I Wish I’d Known – I wrote this post after listening to an MPR segment with a similar theme.
  • Reflections of a Book Reviewer – My post after eight years of reviewing books for Library Journal.
  • Remember Your Why – From the Letters to a Young Librarian blog.
  • #whylib – Follow the hashtag on Twitter.

 

The Post Script is that I have not yet written a novel, but I still dream of doing so one day.  In the meantime, I had an article in last month’s VOYA Magazine. ;)

Talking about religion…

I have been eagerly following the discussion of Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit going on at Teen Librarian Toolbox.  I haven’t been talking about religion very much anymore on this blog.  It is one of those awkward topics after all, like politics, that people tend to avoid.  But I am still reading about it a lot, and I am very glad that others are talking about it.   After all,  I spent most of my life (including all of my teen years) as a person of faith in a non-mainstream religion, and I seem to always be drawn to stories that reflect the feelings that I remember from my religious experience, including the feeling of not wanting to be part of the religious identity I had always known.

starbirdHere are just a few of the teen fiction titles that resonated with me, and my admittedly unusual experience, on the subject of faith:

  • Hush by Eishes Chayil – This story addresses issues of sex abuse in a minority religious community in which reporting to the outside authorities is discouraged.  It affected me deeply since it was an issue for my former religion as well.
  • Like No Other by Una LaMarche – While there has been some discussion of the problematic portrayal of Hasidic Judaism in this book, I thought that Devorah’s emotional experience struggling with her faith and strict religious community was beautifully written.  I think that is an important story to tell, and I saw this story as a way of sharing parts of my own.
  • Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock – Starbird’s situation in this book is even more different from mine than the previous two on this list–she lives in a cult–but, again, it is the emotional experience that resonated with me.  When she leaves her home and interacts with the Outside for the first time, she learns that Outsiders are not all bad and that her ideas about the world might not be completely accurate.  This is, perhaps, one of my favorite de-conversion stories that I’ve read for its grace in capturing a nuanced experience.
  • Eden West by Pete Hautman – While I’m on the subject of cults*, I’ll throw this book into the discussion even though it won’t be published until April.  There are already too many cults in teen fiction, but I’ll allow this one.  Yes, the cult has some weird beliefs, but Hautman lets his character figure it out slowly and reluctantly.  No matter how weird one’s beliefs are, the process of leaving them is slow and reluctant.  Too many teen novels don’t get that.  This one does.  Watch for it.

A few other titles that make the list: A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt (atheism/agnosticism & Orthodox Judaism), Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu (Quiverful Christianity; Publishes in June 2015), A World Away by Nancy Grossman (Amish). On the nonfiction shelves: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson or Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler.  I have a running list going on my book list wiki.

None of these books is an exact match to my experience of religion or of separating from it, but each of them offers some glimpse into the world of making your own way in the world that is different from the way you were raised (or considering the possibility of doing that).  That is not an easy thing to do, and it is not easy to capture.  I am looking forward to the continued discussion on TLT, and I applaud them for taking up a topic that people often avoid discussing in mixed company.

Curious about my current religious identity? I shared that story here.

* When you are part of a minority group that isn’t often reflected in fiction, you tend to find similarities where you can.  There is an emotional resonance for me with these stories about cults because they are also a minority belief group. My discussion of these books should not constitute a commentary on religion in general or in specific.

How we tell our stories

redbutterflyI didn’t realize what Kara in Red Butterfly and  I had in common until I was twenty-five pages into the story when she describes her “one blunt hand” that she always keeps hidden in her sleeve.

I couldn’t help but think that when I finally write my own story, I hope it takes at least that long to get to describing my limb difference.  It may be the first thing that most people notice when they see me, but it doesn’t have to be the first part of my story or even the main part of my story.

It isn’t the main part of Kara’s story either.  Her story is about family and belonging and how messy and difficult those things can get.  I don’t have personal experience with Chinese culture or international adoption, so I can’t speak to those aspects of Kara’s story.  I can say that it was really nice to read about a limb difference that wasn’t a trauma, and I can happily report that Kara doesn’t struggle to do anything.  She rides a bike and does all sorts of other tasks that people would typically expect she couldn’t do.  Those things aren’t a big deal.

That, honestly, kind of warms my heart a little bit.

My story isn’t about trauma, and my only struggle is convincing people I’m not struggling.  It feels really good to see a middle grade novel that gets that.  I would recommend Red Butterfly to young readers (ages 10-12) who are interested in a thoughtful story written in lyrical verse.

More about me and my limb difference on Fake Arm 101.

My Day at School

I spent most of Monday in what felt like a sea of first graders.  I was at my daughter’s school for Parent Involvement Day, and as usual there were questions everywhere I turned.  I don’t exactly blend in.

In the lunch line, a little girl asked me if I was a pirate.  The look in her eyes and the tone of her voice told me she meant it nicely.  “I’m not,” I said with a smile. “But it looks like it, doesn’t it?  My hook is even cooler than a pirate’s though.  It opens up!”  She seemed suitably impressed.

Later one of the boys and I discussed some potential additions to my prosthetic arm after I’d explained to him how it worked.  He thought extendo-arm feature would be cool.  Super strength too.  I told him I hoped he would be the one to invent a prosthetic arm with super strength when he grew up.  He looked thoughtful as he said, “Yeah, I probably will.”

But it wasn’t all adorable. How is one supposed to respond to the child who repeatedly says, “You are scary.”? I still don’t know.  It would have been different if this child had seemed afraid, but he only seemed interested in drawing negative attention to me. There are only so many ways I can think of to say “I know I look different, but I’m really just like you.”  And some people won’t hear that message no matter how I say it.

wonder

The good news is that I’m not the only one saying it.

When I first read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I wanted every kid I knew to read it.  It said what I’d been trying to say for years.  Auggie says in the book: “The only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one sees me that way.”  If you haven’t read it yet, give it a chance.  It may be message-driven (or what some have called “guidance counselor fiction“), but it’s a message to which I feel a strong connection.

jacobseyepatchI have mentioned Jacob’s Eye Patch on this blog before, but it bears mentioning again.  It is a great picture book for talking about differences.  I highly recommend it–and the activity kit–for it’s realistic look at curiosity and questions.  We always tell our kids not to mention anyone’s difference or ask any potentially embarrassing questions, but Jacob offers a “green light” to people who have questions about his eye patch.

My philosophy: When you can’t blend in, you might as well take questions.  It isn’t always comfortable.  But, as I often assure nervous parents whose children are about to ask me anything, I have heard it all, and I swear I’m not as scary as I look.

Sunday morning bus rides

marketstreet_bgMost Sunday mornings, my daughter and I ride a city bus to church and back home again.  We have waited for the bus in the rain and in the falling snow.  We have shared smiles with many different drivers and riders as we all explored our great city via public transit.

So I was excited to share Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena with my daughter.  How many picture books have families riding a city bus?  Only a few that I know of.  And none do it with the magic that Matt de la Pena brings to a simple bus ride.  Last Stop on Market Street is a celebration of city living that I want to share with everyone–especially those who question my appreciation for public transit.

In the story, CJ and his grandmother are riding the bus after church.  CJ asks question after question–Why don’t they have a car? How come that man can’t see? Why do they have to go somewhere after church?–and his grandmother answers them all with kindness.  I couldn’t help but smile as I read the story, and at the end, when they arrive at a soup kitchen to serve food to hungry people, I was reminded to look for opportunities to see beauty in the world.

On a chilly morning like this one, I have to admit I was silently wishing we were a two car family, so we could drive to church and my husband could drive to work.  But I thought of CJ and his Nana.  I thought of all the little moments I’ve had with my daughter on our Sunday morning bus rides.  I thought about my city and my church.  I am grateful that my city has a pretty great transit service and that my church has so many opportunities to help people.  Perhaps one of these Sundays, we will catch a later bus home so we can join the group that packs meals for homeless MCTC students after the service.

You can see some illustrations and read more about the story behind the book in this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

 

 

An unexpected gratitude

I meant to post something about gratitude during the week of Thanksgiving, but the days were full of holiday preparations to the point that I had no time to spare on putting such words together. Now that I have a moment, let me express a surprising bit of gratitude: I am thankful for my mornings.

No one in my family is a morning person, least of all me, so any positive feeling at that time of day is outside of my usual. But things have shifted with the beginning of this school year. After years of getting up super early to take the bus to work well before my daughter woke for school, I have traded in my bus pass for a set of car keys.

My mornings are no longer a frenzied rush to make my bus. They are comparatively slower and much happier.  They have become my most treasured moments with my daughter. We talk about our dreams and plans over breakfast, and sometimes we even have time to share a story or two.  By the time I send her off to school and leave for work, I am smiling.  I can’t help it.

Best Time of Day by Eileen SpinelliOne of my favorite morning moments was from a story we read one day before school. The book was The Best Time of Day by Eileen Spinelli, and my daughter shared her own best, which was not far off from my own. She had a dreamy/happy voice when she said how much she loved mornings–at school. Her favorite time of day is that moment when she first gets to school. “There are kids and teachers talking and laughing. The piano is playing, and everyone is saying hi to each other and rushing around. I just love it so much.”

These are the moments I don’t want to miss.  It’s the stuff of happiness, right?  Watching this little girl experience the world as her own individual while sharing so much of who she is with her father and me makes me happy.   I’m grateful for moments like this.

alljoyHappiness is complicated though, especially when it comes to our kids.  Parenting is not all sunshine and lollipops.  You don’t need me to tell you that, I’m sure.  I probably didn’t need a whole book telling me that over and over in different ways, but I still read All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior.  And somehow, I even loved it.  For all the bleak stories and statistics in the book that threatened to be pretty depressing, it was all so fascinating.  She chronicles how the word “parent” turned into a verb, how kids went from being “economically worthless to emotionally priceless,” and how happiness plays a role in all of this stuff in a shifting world where there is no script for any of us.

In the absence of a script, it’s just love.  It’s just little moments where we read stories and talk about our favorite things.  It’s the days when we can’t help but smile.

 

Read or watch more:

On Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown_Girl_Dreaming-200If you are a regular reader of this blog or you landed here searching for information about Brown Girl Dreaming, I probably don’t need to explain to you how stories can change lives.  Maybe you are a reader who has long been drawn to the power of story.  Maybe you’re a parent looking for books to instill that appreciation in your kids.  Or maybe you’re a librarian who has made connecting people with books into a career.  Whatever the case, I think you know what stories can do.

Brown Girl Dreaming was a story I had to read twice to really appreciate.  The first time I flew through the pages looking for familiar elements that I so rarely see in books.  You see, I spent my childhood learning the days of the week by their religious obligation, standing quietly during the Pledge of Allegiance, and sitting out of school holiday celebrations just like Jacqueline Woodson did.  Like other minority experiences, it is one that is not often reflected in books, especially books for kids.

For readers who have never had the experience, let me tell you how it feels to read a book about a person who shares something that sets you apart from most people: it is thrilling. I tore through Brown Girl Dreaming looking for what we shared.  There was much we didn’t share–Woodson is African-American and grew up in the 1960s; I am Caucasian and grew up in the 1980s–but so many of her words and feelings might have been mine when it referenced our shared childhood religion.

In the world of children’s books, we have been talking a lot about the need for books to reflect the diverse experiences, cultures, ethnicities, abilities, etc. of young readers.  I have always believed that, but Brown Girl Dreaming made me feel it.

My second time through the book was slower.  I wanted to read it again to see what others who don’t share my religious background were seeing.  In that reading, I saw an exquisite coming-of-age memoir that was about so much more than religion.  It was about the power of stories to shape who we are. Woodson wrote about the stories her family told, the stories she read, and the stories she wrote as a child, and how they all became part of her.  She concludes her memoir by describing herself as a person who believes in many things, who carries many worlds inside of her because of those experiences of listening, reading, and observing the stories around her.

If there is one idea I can share with others, it is the one expressed in the final poem: “When there are many worlds, love can wrap itself around you, say, Don’t cry.”  Seek many worlds for yourself.  Listen, read, observe.

Links of interest:

 

The difference a prosthetic can make

I am well aware that if I had been born in a different time or place my life would not be what it is.  I might point to my eyeglasses and reference my very poor unassisted vision as one way my life would have been quite different if I’d been born a few hundred years ago.  But I think that my prosthetic arm is the more obvious tie to the modern era that I rely on regularly.

I might argue that I can’t go without my glasses for more than a few minutes, and I can go without my fake arm for days if necessary, but the truth is that I don’t want to go without either.  There are plenty of one armed people who don’t use prosthetics– and most insurance companies will consider them cosmetic–but I can’t imagine my life without mine.

IMG_0140.JPGI wish I had a cool story like the girl in A Time to Dance who was able to live her dream of pursuing a career in dance even after losing her foot because of her prosthetic leg.  Yes, it’s fiction (teen fiction, to be specific), but there’s a real precedent there.  For Veda in the story, it is obvious how having a prosthetic leg changed her life.  It opened her to opportunities that were otherwise closed.  Sometimes I can forget that that’s possible.

My prosthesis is neither here nor there in my dreams, which revolve around books, libraries, and writing.  My story is nowhere near as dramatic as the usual inspirational novel.  And the truth is that if I’d never had a prosthetic arm, my life may very well be basically the same.

I have no idea what I would do with my hair without my prosthetic arm, but I’m sure I would have figured out something.

The real story is this: I have had my prosthetic arm since before I can remember.  It has always been a part of me.  I am not sure how much it has changed my life to have had it.  It simply is my life.  I could probably live without it if I had to, but I really don’t want to.  It does make my life much easier, and I definitely need it to put my hair in a pony tail.

My story isn’t an inspirational novel.  My story is set in a world where I haven’t had to consider “Ugly Laws” or other limitations.  I live after the Americans with Disabilities Act made accommodations available to those who needed them, and I’ve never need any anyway.  I was able to pursue whatever career I wanted, and I never had to worry if I would be barred from anything because of what I lacked.

I am very grateful that I live here and now. But even in the here and now, prosthetics are prohibitively expensive for many.

When I read stories like A Time to Dance, I am reminded of how powerful access to prosthetics can be, how it can truly change people’s lives.  I’ll never know how my life would be different without my prosthetic arm, if at all, but I am extremely grateful that my parents made it happen for me.  I would love to give someone else a chance to experience what prosthetics can do.  Perhaps it will be integral to their dream.  Or maybe it will be integral to their sense of identity.  Either way, I think it’s a worthy cause.

Consider a donation to the charity that made my prosthetic arms possible: Shriner’s Hospital for Children Twin Cities.  Or explore other options for limb deficient people who find that their insurance does not cover prosthetic devices or their repair such as Limbs for Life.

 

Note: This is not a sponsored post, and the book was a library copy.

 

The Rules of Summer

IMG_0197.JPG

“What did you learn this summer?” I asked my daughter on one of the last evenings before school started.  Her quick reply was her newest accomplishment: riding a bicycle without training wheels.  Her pride was still fresh, and I could hear it in her voice.  I hugged her close with a smile.

This summer has been quieter than last.  Mostly we’ve spent our summer peeking out the windows to check on our daughter as she played outside with the neighborhood kids.  Sometimes I sat outside on the front steps with a book as the kids played.  I listened to their games, stories, and ideas with interest as I flashed back to summers I spent with a pack of neighborhood kids.

I always seemed to be one of the oldest of the group, and I was the oldest child in my family as well.  I imagine my role wasn’t dissimilar from the older boy in The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan who imparts the wisdom of his years to a younger child, including rules like “Never leave one red sock on the clothesline” and “Never be late for a parade.”  The art is surreal and sometimes ominous, revealing the dark parts of childhood relationships along with the sublime.

I don’t remember any of the misinformation I passed down to the younger kids (whether mistaken or purposeful), but it seems it is part of childhood to “learn” some not quite right ideas from those who come before us.  Tan renders that so beautifully in his book; I think most adult readers will find something to jog a memory of childhood summers–perhaps a rule or idea from an older sibling that seemed true at the time but now is as fantastic as some of the scenes from the book.

Though my daughter is an only child surrounded by same-aged kids on our block, she doesn’t completely miss out on this universal experience.  She spends a lot of time with her eight-year-old aunt, who told her never, ever to touch a fire hydrant.  They are super hot from all the fire inside.  You have to be careful.

It seems some things never change.

 

Read more about The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan:

The book is also available as an app, and there is a teacher’s guide.